The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been penalized by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for blurring the lines between editorial and marketing.
The advertising watchdog banned seven Reach owned-newspaper advertorials and warned the government department to ensure future marketing is prominently labeled.
The ads were all placed in local newspapers under the headline “Levelling Up! What is it and what does it mean for…” with the name of each region inserted at the end. On each ad the byline was listed as “commercial writer,” and on the far right there was a box with an “ADVERTORIAL” label.
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Department shadow ministers Lisa Nandy and Alex Norris filed the complaint challenging whether the ads could be interpreted as editorial content.
In its defence, the levelling-up department put the blame on Reach, claiming the publisher is responsible for ensuring commercial editorial follows regulations.
Reach said the “ADVERTORIAL” label was visible and prominent, and that the “commercial writer” byline told readers it was commercial content. However, the ASA deemed the font for the ad label to be small and not “sufficiently clear” that the article was an ad. It is also disputed that an average reader would understand the term “commercial writer.”
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In this case, the dispute was largely over the ads being labeled differently from print to online, so when the ad was seen on Facebook it was less clearly labeled than if it was accessed via the newspaper homepage.
Reach said the ads met Facebook’s guidelines and were appropriately labeled on Google as a Display Network ad, and if viewed on the homepage had “ADVERTORIAL” listed.
The ASA acknowledged that the Google and Facebook ads were labeled, but they didn’t reference the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and it wasn’t clear the clickthrough article was promotional.
The final point of contention was over the department’s logo on an infographic. Reach claimed this made clear it was an advert, but the ASA believed a reader would interpret the logo to list the source of editorial content.